What is Rejection? How is it Prevented?

After an organ or tissue transplant, recipients have to undergo extensive therapy and medication to grow accustom to their new organ. However, this post-operation care is not always successful and the body may reject the new organ. To avoid this, transplant recipients take immunosuppressants that weaken the immune system to keep the body from rejecting their new organ. The amount of time someone will spend in the recovery room preparing to return to their regular life will vary from patient to patient. Because individual experience after recovery is so unique, it is important to discuss with your physician what to expect after surgery.

Generally your medical team will balance the amount of immunosuppressive medication you need and will monitor you closely for rejection. They will watch for side effects of the immunosuppressive medications, which include diabetes, infection, kidney disease, cancer or high blood pressure. If any of these problems arise, your doctor will change the medication type or dose.

There are two types of organ rejection you may experience: acute rejection and chronic rejection. Acute rejection occurs within the first few months, happening when your body’s immune system treats the new organ like a foreign object and attacks it. This is treated by reducing your immune system’s response with medication. Chronic rejection happens after a year or at any time beyond. This can become a long-term problem because complex conditions can make rejection difficult to treat. For example a disease can weaken your immune system and trigger an episode.

To stay healthy and avoid rejection as a recipient, make sure you:

  • Take medication consistently without missing doses
  • Attend all appointments
  • Complete all required lab tests
  • Communicate with your transplant team

If you get sick, or another doctor prescribes you a medication, you will need to make sure your transplant team knows the nature of your illness, and whether it relates to your transplant. They will also see if the prescribed medication is the best medicine for you at the moment, and whether the medication will interact with your immunosuppressant.

-Vlad Elizarov, Alexander’s Hope Intern


Transplant Living


UVA Health